Tribu is exquisitely filthy. Kadin, Still Life and Ligaw Liham were the beauty queens of Cinemalaya. Tribu is the slut in torn fishnets, a leather micromini and an aqua blue tube top made of lycra. Tribu's Tondo is the beautiful bitch and she'll luv you long time for a price. Usually your wallet, sometimes your life.
In retrospect, Tribu's tagline of "Bawal Pumasok Dito" isn't really the best thing to put on a poster at the entrance to a film. For us brave souls who ignored that warning, we were treated to a genuine masterpiece of the visual if not visceral narrative. Sex, Drugs and Rap, all your bad friends are here.
Tribu opens and closes with the narration of a young boy living in Tondo. He tells you that here, even a kid can be king. The first time he says it, you wonder how. The second time he says it, he shows you. The film itself is supposedly seen thru his eyes, but he's quickly forgotten amid the glory of Tondo.
Writer-Director Jim Libiran is uniquely qualified to bring this story to life. As a Tondo native, his familiarity with the subject is from firsthand experience. With his skills as a writer, he took that experience to create a Palanca Award-winning screenplay. His origins as a producer and director in the news bureau endows that script with a deep sense of realism onscreen. Tribu will strike you with awe and make you swear out loud several times how good it is.
Tribu stars nobody in particular. It has several members of the local hip-hop scene but unless you know who they are, they'll be as unknown to you as the rest of the cast. It's that 'rest of the cast' who really steal the movie. Jim Libiran tapped into dozens of real gangbangers from Tondo as actors and they're eerily genuine onscreen. It's their anonymity that lends the film an air of documentary.
While Jim Libiran's script won a Palanca Award, the film's effectiveness stems from the fact that for the most part, he discards it. After the film, I spoke to Lloyd, now known as Young Cent who plays one of the gangleaders and is the most visible of the real-life gangbangers. He told me that Jim Libiran told them what he wanted from the scene and bahala na sila kung ano gagawin at sasabihin nila.
That shows a great deal of trust in Lloyd and the gangs and they don't disappoint. Like their rap, their acting was done in freestyle virtuosity. They rewrote a Palanca Award-winning script into a Balanghai winning movie on the fly. Just like Jim, this was experience talking.
The professional rappers here also deliver what have to be the performances of their lives. They'd be called ingenues but they share the same level of excellence as the unknowns. They do themselves and Tondo proud and embarass jsut about every artista from every reality search on the idiot box.
While Jason Abalos was my bet for Best Actor, Cinemalaya reminds us just how different it is as the ensemble of actors in Tribu collectively won that Balanghai instead. You've just got to love Cinemalaya for doing that. In the economy of street cred, these guys were already millionaires. Now they're bonafide Street Heroes.
Sounds like Hell
Rap and Hip-Hop are the obvious soundtrack to Tribu. It's become the language of violence and was similarly employed in Gunner Palace. While Gunner Palace was an actual documentary, it followed American soldiers in Iraq and was essentially 'COPS goes to Baghdad'. Tribu employs hip-hop as the language of her warzone's residents, not outsiders.
Rap as native urban tongue is something the gangbangers inherited from their peers in the west. In Tribu, they've made it their own. Once again, the non-professionals here match the professionals as they all speak eloquently of the same miseries and the sames anxieties and the same cheap thrills.
No other music will do for Tribu, but rap is only half the soundtrack. The other is provided by Tondo herself. The place is overcrowded and LOUD. The cacophony shows that not everybody there is motivated by violence. The people go about their business as they eke out a living before the eternal dead end. It's a symphony of chaos.
The racket of a slaughterhouse, the noise of people complaining to Meralco, that's Tondo at daytime. Even the gangbangers are good family men when the sun is up or at least whatever sunlight manages to permeate the metal canopy of rusty rooftops.
The deafening noise in the claustrophobic confines of this area of Tondo is enough to drive anyone insane. Or in this case, to violence. One of many reasons for it. Most disheartening of all is that they don't need a reason at all.
I can't help but think of Tribu as Batch 81 for a new generation. Without the greek letters and the settings of a prestigious university, you get a deeper understanding of the despair of the lives in Tribu. They kill each other because they literally have nothing better to do. Revenge is jsut a chaser to the tonic.
The gangbangers in Tribu don't graduate after a few years with a degree in hand to leave the gang wars behind as they could in Batch 81. The gangbangers in Tribu's Tondo live there and most of them will never leave. Good thing Jim Libiran came along then.
As a film, Tribu is a tremendous effort that succeeds all expectations. As a project, it's so much more. The real gangbangers who became actors in Tribu didn't come from just one gang or even allied gangs. They came from half a dozen warring gangs. They had what could've been the deadliest acting workshops and cast meetings in history. "Actor kills Actor for looking at him funny", imagine the headlines.
What Jim and Tribu did was make peace with these warring tribes. He gave them something better to do and now they're all textmates and buddies. They're all driven to end violence. He even sponsored their participation in poetry writing workshops at UP. Their rap is now professionally performed and they're considering releasing an album. God help anybody foolish enough to pirate the CD. Holy hell, Tribu became a humanitarian project.
Lloyd told me that several parties were interested in making a film like Tribu for their own burgs. There's a Tondo in every part of the country, it seems. Sequels that merely repeat instead of continue would dilute the raw power of this film and hopefully subsequent films would tell different stories.
Jim's plans are unknown but I read somewhere that he's planning to make a film about the wars in Mindanao. He's already got a not-so-little army he can use as soldiers. His next film is something to look forward to and I hope it has as much power as his first effort.
Tribu is a great achievement. It stands proudly and VIOLENTLY as one of the greatest films in Philippine Cinema, not just Cinemalaya. If anybody disagrees, send them to the dark part of Tondo where Lloyd and his friends can sort them out.
btw - I mentioned my comparison with Batch 81 to Jim Libiran and he said the initiation scene was his tribute to that great film.